How a windfall tax could sever marketing’s unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels
Amid the UK’s energy crisis, windfall taxes for polluters have been in the zeitgeist. But what of their marketing partners? Alex Lewis, co-founder of agency Revolt, argues that it could be time for our own windfall tax.
Read the original article on The Drum “Our world is in big trouble.” These were the first words from the United Nations secretary general at the recent general assembly in New York. He wasn’t talking about Russia’s aggressive rhetoric on Ukraine or the global crunch on the cost of living, but about the climate emergency.
Governments must stage an ‘intervention’ to break their addiction to fossil fuels, Antonio Guterres said, by targeting not only the fossil fuel companies themselves but the entire infrastructure of businesses that support them – their ‘enablers,’ as he called them.
This is not a new line of attack. In April at the launch of the latest IPCC report, Guterres had summed it up when introducing the report’s findings: “Some government and business leaders are saying one thing but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic.”
But at the General Assembly he got specific: “That includes the massive public relations (PR) machine raking in billions to shield the fossil fuel industry from scrutiny. Just as they did for the tobacco industry decades before, lobbyists and spin doctors have spewed harmful misinformation.”
While the UN doesn’t have the power to directly enforce such an intervention, his comments send an important signal; a call to action to those who can enact real change. To the developed countries that have a disproportionate impact on emissions, the businesses that operate there and, pointedly, the industries that serve as their voice.
How do we change?
The first step is to follow France’s lead with a ban on fossil fuel-related advertising. This will happen naturally, but slowly, as the conscience kicks in with more and more media outlets self-imposing the ban. Let’s not procrastinate any longer, and announce that we’ve done the right thing before Cop27.
Agencies will start to see the fallout reach their own door. At Cannes this year Greenpeace crashed the opening ceremony to call out the advertising industry “for working with the fossil fuel industry and being complicit in spreading disinformation around the climate catastrophe and promoting their polluting products.”
Crucially, those with fossil fuel clients will increasingly struggle to retain and attract talent. A recent UK survey of 18-30-year-old creatives found 63% were uncomfortable working with high-carbon clients; 40% said they would consider refusing work for high-carbon clients. Without an intervention, agencies working on fossil fuel-related advertising will start to see their reputation damaged both internally and externally.
The case for a windfall tax
How about media that’s less easy to pin down, such as promotions, PR and content-led approaches? Here, we need a windfall tax on all revenue the marketing industry takes from oil and gas.